IRVING, Texas -- A year ago at this time, La'el Collins was at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama, looking to solidify his position as a first-round pick.
He did just that, but through circumstances not in his control he went undrafted altogether.
In some ways, that proved to be the best thing for Collins because he could choose where he wanted to play. Ultimately he chose the Dallas Cowboys, who fully guaranteed Collins' three-year contract, which is unheard of for a undrafted free agent.
Economically Collins will have to play catch-up on not being a first-round pick for the rest of his career, but he has found a home with the Cowboys.
He started 11 games at left guard after taking over for Ronald Leary but missed the season finale because of a high ankle sprain.
"Definitely made some progress in the direction of where I want to be as a player," Collins said. "Now, knowing that, take that from this year and be able to apply it to next year."
Collins made a few highlight plays, which is rare for a guard. It started in the preseason when he bowled over a San Diego Chargers linebacker. In the regular season he knocked over Seattle Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner and then safety Earl Thomas on a Darren McFadden run.
But Collins remembers more the plays he would like back in order to be better in 2016.
"Being able to have that experience just puts you in position to know what you're getting yourself into," Collins said. "This offseason is going to be huge, preparing the right way. … There's so much room for me to grow in my game physically and so much more room for me to grow mentally. As a young player I haven't scratched the surface of the real complete player I want to become."